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At the end of The Return of the King, after the One Ring is destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom, the rings were carried out of Middle-Earth.

IIRC it may have been Elrond, Galadriel, and Gandalf who carried them out separately, or Elrond carried all three out “over the sea.”

These rings are now the most powerful artifacts in Middle-Earth after the One Ring is destroyed.

Why still hold them and not destroy these rings as well?

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    There's a joke here about JRRT trying to set the stage for a Rocky-esque series of sequels ("LOTR 8: The Return Of Sauron" "LOTR 27: Un-Dead Elven Kings - Gil-Galad Awakens!" "LOTR 96: Cooking With Smeagol!") but I'm not goin' there... :-) – Bob Jarvis Apr 29 '11 at 16:42
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    Leading to the series revitilization effort of Bilbo Balbao. – riv_rec Apr 29 '11 at 17:19
  • I was under the impression that while Sauron wore the One Ring he would have control of anyone using the others, the Elves somehow were warned of this but the humans didn't have a chance and became Nazgul. After Sauron was stripped of the ring the three elven rings could be used, but if he ever got it back they would fall under his domination. Once the One Ring was destroyed it broke the power of all the others, and rendered them useless. – kleineg May 11 '15 at 13:38
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Sauron did not directly participate in the creation of the Three Rings, so they were free of its corrupting influence. So although he did intend the One Ring to rule them all, the Three were tied to the One's power but their wearers did not become corrupted by Sauron's influence. Thus there was no compelling need to destroy them. This leaves the question of why the Three were kept, rather than discarded or destroyed just in case.

I believe the Three's power after the destruction on the One is left unresolved. During the council of Elrond (LOTR 2.II), the assembled experts don't know:

‘But what then would happen, if the Ruling Ring were destroyed, as you counsel?’ asked Glóin.
‘We know not for certain,’ answered Elrond sadly. ‘Some hope that the Three Rings, which Sauron has never touched, would then become free, and their rulers might heal the hurts of the world that he has wrought. But maybe when the One has gone, the Three will fail, and many fair things will fade and be forgotten. That is my belief.’

Galadriel seems to hold a similar opinion (LOTR 2.VII).

[Galadriel is talking to Frodo.] ‘Yet if you succeed, then our power is disminished, and Lothlórien will fade, and the tides of Time will sweep it away. We must depart into the West, or dwindle to a rustic folk of dell and cave, slowly to forget and to be forgotten.’

After the destruction of the One Ring, Gandalf has this to say (LOTR 6.V):

‘The Third Age of the world is ended, and the new age is begun […]; the power of the Three Rings is also ended. And all the lands that you see, and those that lie about them, shall be dwellings of Men. For the time comes of the Dominion of Men, and the Elder Kindred shall fade or depart.’

Finally (LOTR 6.IX), it is revealed that the Three will be worn by their respective wielders as they leave Middle-earth together:

Upon [Elrond's] finger was a ring of gold with a great blue stone, Vilya, mightiest of the Three. On [Galadriel's] finger was Nenya, the ring wrought of mithril, that bore a single white stone flickering like a frosty star.
[…] Gandalf now wore openly upon his hand the Third Ring, Narya the Great, and the stone upon it was red as fire.

The Silmarillion includes a chapter “On the Rings of Power and the Third Age”. Its summary of the events is that

[…] the One and the Seven and the Nine are destroyed; and the Three have passed away, and with them the Third Age is ended […].

But when all [the events of LOTR] were done, and the Heir of Isildur had taken up the lordship of Men, and the dominion of the West had passed to him, then it was made plain that the power of the Three Rings also was ended, and to the Firstborn the world drew old and grey.

In light of these clues, there are several reasonable theories:

  • The Three have become pretty but useless baubles, kept as souvenirs.
  • The Three's power is disminished but not extinguished.
  • The Three's power remains intact.

My interpretation is that Tolkien purposefully left this unresolved. After the end of the Third Age, the world belongs to the humans. The magic has left. This goes beyond the Three Rings: the elves had magic before the rings and will still have magic after, but their time has passed. Maybe the Three still have some power, maybe they don't, but primarily they must not leave a mark any longer: the Three must not remain, by need of historicity. The fate of the Three Rings after they have left Middle-earth is for us humans to speculate about, not know of.

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    my take on this has always been that had the three been destroyed, everything created with them would be destroyed as well (as Barad-Dur was destroyed when the One Ring was destroyed). – jwenting Apr 28 '11 at 9:31
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    I think "the power of the Three Rings also was ended" is a pretty clear statement, which cannot possibly be interpreted as "The Three's power remains intact". – Martha Jun 16 '11 at 17:54
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    @Martha: This passage doesn't convince me that this is a “physical” property of the Three, rather than a technically metonymical statement about the time for them having passed. – user56 Jun 16 '11 at 22:10
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    +1 for "The fate of the Three Rings after they have left Middle-earth is for us humans to speculate about, not know of." – Dharini Chandrasekaran Jul 12 '11 at 21:54
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Because they aren't corrupting influences like the One Ring was. The Elven rings didn't have any evil baggage, so they were acceptable to keep.

7

I think the other piece of relevent information comes from a letter of Tolkien's,

In ["The Rings of Power"] we see a sort of second fall or at least ‘error’ of the Elves. There was nothing wrong essentially in their lingering against counsel, still sadly with the mortal lands of their old heroic deeds. But they wanted to have their cake without eating it. They wanted the peace and bliss and perfect memory of ‘The West’, and yet to remain on the ordinary earth where their prestige as the highest people, above wild Elves, dwarves, and Men, was greater than at the bottom of the hierarchy of Valinor. They thus became obsessed with ‘fading’, the mode in which the changes of time (the law of the world under the sun) was perceived by them.... Sauron found their weak point in suggesting that, helping one another, they could make Western Middle-earth as beautiful as Valinor. It was really a veiled attack on the gods, an incitement to try and make a separate independent paradise. Gilgalad repulsed all such overtures, as also did Elrond. But at Eregion great work began - and the Elves came their nearest to failing to ‘magic’ and machinery. With the aid of Sauron’s lore they made Rings of Power (‘power’ is an ominous and sinister word in all these tales, except as applied to the gods).

The chief power (of all the rings alike) was the prevention or slowing of decay (i.e. ‘change’ viewed as a regrettable thing), the preservation of what is desired or loved, or its semblance - this is more or less an Elvish motive. But also they enhanced the natural powers of a possessor - thus approaching ‘magic’, a motive easily corruptible into evil, a lust for domination.

So, as others have said, the rings didn't have power once the One Ring was destroyed, but the Three Rings never really should have been in Middle Earth to begin with, so removing them was the right thing.

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The rings are tied to their bearers and vice versa. It's fairly clear that if the Elves remained they'd grow weaker and weaker hence they left for the West. I'd surmise the same was true for the rings. Over time they'd lose power and become mundane and in fact had already started to do so well before the One was ever found again just like the elves had since the last alliance of men and elves.

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    Welcome to scifi.stackexchange! Do you have some sources on the rings getting weaker and becoming mundane? – Einer May 15 '14 at 11:28
  • Nothing more then what was already cited. – Citrakite May 15 '14 at 11:31
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    Thing is: Though this site is all about fiction, it is preferred to reduce the speculation in the answers to the necessary minimum. The more you can "prove" the better! – Einer May 15 '14 at 11:48

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